Pubdate: Mon, 21 June 1999
Source: Roll Call (DC)
Copyright: 1999 Roll Call Inc.
Author: Rep. Patsy T. Mink
Note: Rep. Patsy T. Mink (D-Hawaii) is the ranking member of the Government
Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources. 

Policy Briefing: Crime & Public Policy

Should The Federal Government Study The Effects Of Medical Marijuana?


I believe it is important that the federal government continue its research
and study of the effects of marijuana.

Last month, the Institute of Medicine published a report on Marijuana and
Medicine at the request of the White House Office of National Drug Policy
which concluded that research should proceed in several areas regarding
marijuana use for medicinal purposes, currently the topic of considerable

The question that needs to be definitively analyzed is whether there is
scientific evidence that there are health benefits from the use of marijuana
by people who are suffering from debilitating illnesses.

Voters in California and Arizona passed referenda that permit the use of
marijuana for medical purposes. In six states -- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado,
Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- voters passed ballot initiatives in support
of medical marijuana.

Clearly there is much support in these communities and perhaps in others to
allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The recent Institute of Medicine report made six recommendations based on
its review of this topic.

THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but not all effects
of marijuana are due to THC. Most of the effects of marijuana, according to
the report, were due to actions on the brain, but little information was
found about how THC acts on the brain.

In addition, the report could not offer scientific insights into the harmful
or therapeutic effects of marijuana.

The Institute of Medicine report did conclude that cannabinoids "likely have
a natural role in pain modulation, control of movement and memory." The
report, however, stated that the role of cannabinoids in immune systems
remains unclear.

The report recommended that research on these matters should continue. The
report states that while effects of cannabinoids on symptoms are generally
modest and in most cases there are more effective medications, there are
likely subpopulations of patients who do not respond well to these
medications and therefore could be helped by marijuana for certain
chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting and AIDS wasting.

The report concludes that smoked marijuana has negative implications and is
in any event a crude THC delivery system that delivers harmful substances.
The report states that smoking cannabis -- smoking any plant material -- is
carcinogenic and toxic to the lungs.

Notwithstanding the above, one of the report's recommendations is to support
further studies to define "the individual health risks of smoking marijuana."

The report points out that for patients who have been deemed terminal,
additional health risks from smoking are not relevant as the life expectancy
is likely shorter than any risks to health.

The report states that clinical trials of marijuana use for medical purposes
should be conducted under limited circumstances such as for no longer than
six months, under conditions approved by institutional review boards and
with conditions where there is reasonable expectation of efficacy.

It noted that these trials should be for patients with debilitating
symptoms, such as intractable pain or vomiting, where usual medications
failed to provide relief.

I strongly support the conclusions and recommendations of this report by the
Institute of Medicine. I also support the new procedures announced by the
Department of Health and Human Services providing for further scientific
research on the medical use of marijuana to better understand the benefits
and risks entailed in such use.

Clearly further research will answer the questions whether there are real
health reasons for the use of marijuana.

Rep. Patsy T. Mink (D-Hawaii) is the ranking member of the Government Reform
subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources. 

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